Leeds council under fire in allotment row

Leeds Combined Court Centre
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A JUDGE has raised concerns about the quality of legal advice given to members of Leeds City Council when discussing planned rises in allotment rents.

Judge John Behrens said he was “far from satisfied” that a council scrutiny board had been given “full and proper legal advice” when it met to discuss the planned rises.

It was revealed earlier this month that the council spent £53,000 on legal fees in its subsequent failed court battle with allotment holders.

Judge Behrens said members of the public had been excluded from part of the scrutiny board meeting in September 2013 after legal advice was sought.

But he said meeting minutes contained no details of the legal advice sought or given.

He said Leonie Wallace, from “legal services”, had given “opinions” that were “not legal advice at all”. Judge Behrens had been asked to analyse a dispute between Leeds and District Allotment Gardeners Federation - which had complained that rent rises were unfair - and the council at a High Court hearing.

The judge ruled against the council - which had decided to “substantially” increase allotment rents - in August.

He said a decision made by the executive board had been legally flawed and the scrutiny board had not validated that “unlawful” executive board decision.

Details of the judge’s concerns are contained in his full written ruling on the case, which has now been published on a legal website. In it, he says: “The scrutiny board met on September 25 2013. At an early stage legal advice relating to the executive board was sought and the public were excluded from the meeting.

“The minutes do not contain details of the legal advice that was sought or given. There is no contemporaneous note or other documentary evidence relating to the advice given to the scrutiny board.”

But he said details of what board members had been told had emerged in a witness statement. He said: “Many of the opinions given are not legal advice at all. It is not clear why Leonie Wallace should be giving advice about the research carried out by Parks and Countryside or its attempts to compare allotment services with other recreational activities...

“It is not clear what qualifications Leonie Wallace had to express the opinion that the weekly rate of £1.38 was reasonable. Her opinion on reasonableness was certainly not an expression of legal advice.”

A council spokesman said it had submitted an application seeking to appeal the court’s judgement.

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